The Opening of the Heritage Centre

celm op 8The rain failed to dampen spirits when Mrs Yeoman OBE formally opened the Heritage Centre Museum at Ionad Naomh Moluag  on 17 March 2007. The ferries were busy all morning and a fleet of taxis carried the many visitors to the newly manicured grounds where Angus Nicholson was piping a welcome. After Donald Black,  Chair of the Comann Eachdraidh, had welcomed the dripping crowd, Mrs Yeoman reminded the next generation that they were living on a unique limestone island surrounded by granite and theirs was a great inheritance geologically and culturally. She then snipped the MacGregor tartan ribbon held by Katy and Annie MacGregor whose brother Duncan gifted the land in memory of their parents Dugald and Phemie MacGregor to whom the Museum is dedicated. Shona Wright – Lismore’s youngest school child – presented Mrs Yeoman with a bouquet which was a big thank you from the island for her unstinting support throughout.

There was a chance to see over the building with its splendid exhibition room and enticing cafe before celebrations continued in the community hall where Denise Willis and Norma Black had prepared a wonderful spread.

Following a welcoming glass of wine and before the food we heard from Project Manager Tony Perkins who since 2002 has worked closely with the architect Shauna Cameron and the Comann Eachdriadh members to achieve what many thought was the unachievable. His special thanks went to Margaret MacDonald who, as secretary, working tirelessly seven days a week and to his wife and son for their forbearance. All speakers said that Tony had been an outstanding project manager and very easy to work with. Eleanor Shaw from the Nadair Trust said he had always been good humoured and practical and he’d charmed away obstacles and spread his contagious enthusiasm to everyone.

celm op 13Shauna Cameron told the packed hall that 8 years and 11 days ago, on the sixth of March 1999 she visited the site and met the committee – Margaret MacDonald, Donald Black, Duncan MacGregor, James MacCormick, John Livingstone, Duncan Livingstone, Archie MacGillivary, and Cathy Carmichael. There had been one gable of the derelict cottage and a pile of rubble where the outbuilding had been! From that arose the award winning Taigh Iseabal and now a splendid museum. The building has a very sturdy timber frame with deep timber roof beams. The insulation is sheep’s wool; it has under floor heating – cheaper to run that radiators – and the heating is powered by a ground source heat pump.

The larch boards on the outside are from Europe via Newtonmore and will fade to silver over the years, and the grass roof is from Hamilton. In a few years it will be from Lismore as the birds and the wind do their job.

Builder Stuart Carmichael said it had been great being associated with such a prestigious project on an island were his family went back at least 1,000 year. He admitted he had tried to talk Shauna Cameron out of the grass roof but was now very impressed with it.

The final speaker in Gaelic and English was Beathag Mhoireasden who, several years ago, had started the whole project off by suggesting that Lismore start its very own Comann Eachdraidh. And the rest is a very impressive story indeed.

The afternoon finished with the delicious food, the auctioning of Lismore Whisky and the selling of the Lismore Primary children’s paintings which were decorating the walls.
Celebrations resumed in the evening with dancing to the great music of Cast Ewe Ceilidh Band from Skye with Angus Nicholson and friends. Katy Wright’s magnificent cake, depicting the island and its monuments, was cut and served.

Below are the verbatim speeches from the opening:

Tony Perkins said…..

For anyone present whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting I am Tony Perkins project Manager for the Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mòr, a position I have had the privilege of holding since early 2002 and I was present in August 2002 at the opening of Taigh Iseabal Dhaidh the reconstructed thatched cottage. I expect very few thought that we would be gathered here again to celebrate the opening of Ionad Naomh Moluag.

The completion of both of these projects marks a tremendous achievement for the Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mòr and demonstrates what can be accomplished when well thought out projects are presented to funders and other interested parties in a sustainable coherent format and subsequently carried out through consultation at all stages.

The appointment of Shauna Cameron as architect in 1999 working closely with the society marked the official start and it has been a pleasure working with her over the past seven years. Both projects have been managed by a dedicated team and I must thank them all for all for their assistance. It has been a considerable commitment of time and effort on their part. Special thanks must go to Society secretary Margaret MacDonald for all her help, support, and encouragement, acting as a sounding board on an almost daily basis. I wish to thank most sincerely my wife Mairi and son Eoghan, for all of their time I have spent on the projects.

During 2000 a chance conversation with Geoff Fagin of Cadispa set the wheels in motion and Geoff and his team’s sound advice and professional assistance laid the foundation for all that has followed. Once the business plan and feasibility study had been established we were fortunate in forming a sound alliance with the recently formed Nadair trust in Oban and we have never looked back, both bodies never flinching from their duties, and again it has been a pleasure to work with them all, especially with Eleanor Shaw at Nadair whose assistance and total support with the project has been exceptionally welcome.

But we must not forget that there would have been no project without the generous support of Lismore farmer Duncan MacGregor who donated the land in memory of his parents for both buildings, also for additional land and the use of adjacent fields for the laying of geotherm and drainage piping. Thanks must also go to James MacCormick for the provision of the entrance to the site and for the location of a water tank, pump and water supply, all crucial to the project. The serious work started raising £620,000 of funding, a mammoth task by any standards which continues to this day. In fact the last contract was signed last Tuesday. As a draper by trade it was an extraordinary coincidence that the first funding was awarded by the Cloth Workers’ Foundation of London, one of the original city of London Guilds, and I am relieved to say followed by a raft of public and private funders both large and small and whom I wish to thank on behalf of the Comann Eachdraidh and the community of Lismore for all their generous support. I feel sure they will be pleased with our efforts and that their money has been well invested. Indeed thanks must go to everyone who has helped with the project.

The new building has been built to the very highest standard by Stuart Carmichael of Appin and his team whom again I must thank for their attention to detail at all stages. Hopefully you have had a chance to view the building which will provide the community and visitors with an excellent eating area having been leased by Gill and Davie Meddes to whom I wish every success, and a reception and gift shop, which will retail crafts made on the island. A community room will have the public library and the society’s collection of rare Gaelic books. But the jewel in the crown is the exhibition room depicting and absorbing visitors with the rich heritage of an Hebridian island and its people’s Gaelic way of life collated by our Museum Development Officers Catherine Gillies and Jennifer Baker whose work will continue for another year. All of this the society trusts will act as a nucleus for the advancement of further entrepreneurial businesses on the island.

Personally it has been extremely rewarding to manage to completion two outstanding projects, the ownership of which must now be carried forward in a sustainable way for future generations.

Architect Shauna Cameron said………..

I know that some of the younger people in the audience have already had a major architectural experience this week. They visited the Scottish Parliament to hand in a petition and as one of them was the millionth visitor they will all no doubt remember their historic visit to an important Scottish building for the rest of their lives.

Today they made another historic visit, as far as Lismore and Argyll is concerned, to another important Scottish building – Ionad Naomh Moluag.

I am sure that today’s visit will have a similar impact on them and all of us as it is the culmination of a long but successful journey. It’s also the start of another journey for the island, as it will no doubt attract visitors from all over the world.

I hope I have pronounced Ionad Naomh Moluag properly as I only know one or two words of Gaelic – Comann Eachdraidh, Tigh Iseabal, anorak and hydroelectric!

Mike Robertson ‘phoned me on the 4 January 1999 to ask if I was interested in designing a small museum on Lismore. The Comann Eachdraidh who currently used the schoolhouse was having to move out. A kind Loisach had donated some land with a small ruined cottage on it, so that their own museum could be built. I had already done some work on the island including the lighthouse cottages and I really liked Lismore so I readily accepted the invitation – I have never regretted that decision.

8 years and 11 days ago, the sixth of March 1999, I visited the site and met the committee – Margaret, Donald, Duncan, James, John, Duncan, Archie, Cathy – and we measured out the site so that Mike could transfer the land to the committee. Last week I looked at photographs of that day – there was one gable of the derelict cottage and a pile of rubble where the outbuilding had been – all change now! The chance to do another thatched cottage – I had restored one on Tiree before – was a real treat for me. As you know that project was both successful in itself and also encouraged us all to go for the big prize – the museum.

We went through a few descriptions for the centre over the years as Museums, then heritage centres then heritage museums became flavour of the month with funders – our was a ubiquitous building, we could use any of these titles: as long as they gave us the money the title didn’t matter.

We also went through one or two designs as we realised that the original scheme was maybe too ambitious in scale and while there is no doubt we could have filled it,  it could end up costly to run.

I had been investigating timber cladding as a good sustainable material that could blend into the Lismore landscape. I also visited a friend of a friend of a friend’s house in Edinburgh where he had used a turf roof on his restored cottage. I visited at New Year so perhaps I was just seeing things in a particularly rosy light but I was hooked. I came back and suggested to Tony that this was the way to go. Tony took it well – there was only the briefest intake of breath before he said that this should be ok –so I prepared some sketch plans and the rest is history.

Funding was hard to get but when Tony Perkins is on your case you should just give him the money – he’s very persistent.

It was great when all the funding was in place and we got the all clear to go out to tender and even better when we knew that Stuart Carmichael was the preferred contractor. With all his Lismore connections he couldn’t fail to accept. Work started on site last June and no doubt you have all watched its progress over these last months.

When we built the cottage we had a great deal of difficulty getting the foundations laid because of the rock so naturally we anticipated lots of the stuff below this building – we were wrong – a few big boulders but that was all. David Orr had to do a quick redesign to let Stuart get on. I believe that not only is there a new passing place south of here but that there should be some nice gardens this year with all that extra topsoil!

Stuart will tell you more about the build but I must say that it was an easy contract to run as everyone was so positive. Problems arose but between us we solved them all. For instance when we ran out of Type one – a fill material for the foundations – Archie MacColl lent us some till the next barge arrived – now how often does that happen!

There were also one or two delays caused by the weather – not unusual in this part of the world except that last summer we had to stop building because it was too hot – concrete was due to be poured but it would have dried out too quickly –  I can honestly say that I have never had that happen on a site before!

Just to let you know a little about the building: It is built with a very sturdy timber frame and when you visited you probably noticed the deep timber roof beams. The insulation is sheep’s wool; it has underfloor heating – cheaper to run that radiators – and the heating is powered by a ground source heat pump. Heat is extracted from the earth through 750 metres of pipes – that’s 2500 feet in real money – containing an anti-freeze solution that are buried four or five feet down in Duncan’s field. It works just like a fridge in reverse. This almost free heat will keep the bills low as the pump runs both the heating and provides hot water.

The larch boards on the outside of the building are from Europe via Newtonmore and will fade to silver over the years. The grass is from Hamilton. In a few years it will no doubt be from Lismore as the birds and the wind do their job. We have installed an irrigation system to water the roof when – or if – it is needed.

Just before lambing last year and just before lambing this year a sheep in the field next to our house has decided that the grass is greener in our garden. I have visions of an enterprising Lismore sheep deciding that the roof turf looks greener than the field grass – if she does at least it will cut down on the strimming!

Water is pumped up from a spring though maybe we can persuade Scottish Water to branch out here on their way to the school.

It was Donald McGregor of Malcolm Michie’s’ job to keep an eye on the pennies and you will be glad to know that we are on budget – no overspend here!

When you visit a building site you never know what you’ll find. I came over on Wednesday for a last look round before today’s big event. The place was buzzing and ladies you will be astonished to hear that I saw two men – I’ll not name them but they know who they are – on there knees hoovering and washing the tiled floor in the café  – See they can do it if they have too!

At the end of the March 1999 I wrote this to Margaret:

The visitor’s centre is a very interesting and challenging project for everyone involved. Obviously your existing exhibition has been successful or you would not be committing yourselves to developing the exhibition in this way. The restoration of the thatched cottage along with the provision of a modern interpretative facility and tearoom will provide a focal point on the island for visitors, school children and residents. Its proximity to Point will, as you know allow the walkers and cyclists easy access. Before the centre can be built there are many processes that have to be gone through.

Perhaps none of us realised just how many processes would have to be gone through – some joyful some painful but what a wonderful end result – a thatched croft house and a museum just as we had discussed all those years ago.

I am very proud of this project – we really battled against the odds on many occasions and it wasn’t always easy to be positive. Anyone I mentioned this project to always had a kind word to say and everyone seems to have a Lismore connection of some sort. It’s often said that Committees are the hardest to work with – not in this case – it was a pleasure to work with Comann Eachdraidh.

Everyone, the Design Team Members, the Main and Sub-Contractors, Tony and the Committee, Nadair, and many more too numerous to mention have all put a huge amount of time and effort into the project over the years. There is no doubt that it has been worth it and that Lismore now has a wonderful new community asset which will make it a real Dynamic Place in Argyll and beyond.

Eleanor Shaw from Nadair trust said…

I first heard about the idea that would grow into this wonderful museum from Annie MacGregor, over the post office counter in the village shop in Kilmelford – and I have to thank Annie for this information, which unintentionally helped me – a returning emigrant – talk my way into a job with the Nàdair Trust a few years ago.

At that time, the croft cottage had just been opened, but it turned out that bigger plans had been brewing for quite a few years before that.

And what big plans they were!  Plans that soon found me adding up the budgets again and again, and spending many hours explaining to funders just why it was so important that they contribute to this fantastic project  (and in this I must recognise the debt we all owe to CADISPA for the meticulous ground work that went into building the case)

But out of all those projected figures, there was one number that I grasped fairly quickly, not the total budget – which behaved like a teenager undergoing growth spurts – but the telephone number of the Project Manager, Tony Perkins!

Tony’s input into this project has been exceptional.  Always good humoured and practical, and more often than not inspired, he has charmed away obstacles, kept an eye on the details, and spread his contagious enthusiasm to an extraordinarily wide circle of people.

Again and again over the past few years I have heard Tony say, ‘it’s not my museum, it’s their museum’, and this is the core of the project’s success.  Without an ambitious idea all those years ago, and without the continuing commitment of the Comann Eachdraidh through all the highs and the lows there would be no museum today.

I would like to read a short quote referring to Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mòr from a report produced as part of the ISLA European islands project, in which this project has been a participant.

The ISLA project is examining issues common to island situations across north West Europe- and its tourism study picked Lismore as the best example of a community working in partnership with a range of other organisations to get things done.I quote:

‘ This is a true community group which operates as the lifeblood of the island and the champion for it.  They are all volunteers, and certainly a committed and enthusiastic group of people. They are showing a great deal of determination to make this project come to fruition and success.  This is a major strength, as is the fact that they have an excellent project manager from within their ranks.”

I understand that Lios Mòr means the great garden. To all that have cultivated this island’s great garden of memories to grow this museum- I wish that your endeavours may flourish, and that you may enjoy the fruits of your labours for many years to come.

I have just one last thing to add.  In recognition of his outstanding dedication to the project, and all the fun that we have had while working with Tony Perkins over the past few years, I would like to ask him to accept a small gift from the staff of the Nàdair Trust.